Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A prisoner of Hope...

I spent Christmas on a cruise ship.  Now, that is one statement I never thought I'd make.  But now I can say I did.  And I can also say that I made it through my first Christmas without Tony.

We departed on December 23rd, the 9 month mark from Tony's passing.  As we left the port, I couldn't help but notice a ship at the dock with the name "Atlantic Hope" on its side.  The entire ship was bright orange, it could not be missed.  I wondered what it held inside, but that really did not matter, its name was enough for me...Atlantic Hope.

Peering out the window from my room on the ship, I began to ask God whether this time on the great open sea would bring just that...Hope on the Atlantic.

By dinner that evening, I started to question what in the world I was thinking when I said I wanted to go on a cruise for Christmas.  Certainly, I had not considered the herds of people who would be joining us on board, herds who spent most of their time grazing at the unlimited selection and quantity of food.  I mean, who really needs access to pizza and ice cream 24 hours a day?

But it was too late.  I was stuck.  And so was my wonderful mom, dad, and brother, who love me so much to follow me on my wish to "do something different" for Christmas.  We made the best of it.  We snickered at Daddy being called Santa.  He finally had to take his Santa hat off when parents started asking him to explain to their kids why Santa was on a cruise when he was supposed to be making toys at the North Pole!

We spent Christmas Eve in the Bahamas.  We ventured all through Atlantis until we finally made our way to the sliver of public beach access.  And they call that Paradise Island?  We got our white Christmas, though, complete with white sand and foam from crystal blue water.  God gave me a big belly laugh when I had mom pose for a picture, and she was almost toppled over by a wave.



By this point, I had all but forgotten it was Christmas Eve, until Michael and I strolled down the streets of Nassau with Christmas music blarring all around.  I was really missing Tony and really missing home.  That night we got all dressed up for dinner, took a nice family photo, then attempted to endure less than stellar evening shows on board.  I had enough by 10 p.m. and darted to the room.  I felt as if I was a prisoner on the ship.

It was then I opened my Bible to Zechariah 9:9-12, verses on the prophecy of Christ's coming:

"Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey... He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth. As for you, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will free your prisoners from the waterless pit. Return to your fortress, you prisoners of hope; even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you. "

There it was, "prisoners of hope." 
 
I had always thought of being a prisoner as a bad thing, of being confined, of being at the mercy of another to set me free.  But a prisoner of hope, that doesn't sound all that bad.  And as I thought about it further, that is exactly what I was - a prisoner on this Atlantic Hope, from which I could not escape.
 
I spent Christmas Day laying out on the "serenity deck," a kid-free zone on the back of the ship.  My view on all sides was the Atlantic Ocean, nothing else.  I was surrounded by it.  And I was surrounded by Hope.
 
I could not escape it.
 
What a great place to be on a day when the Ultimate Hope entered the world.  And a prisoner of that Hope I will gladly be for the rest of my life.  For in that Hope, I find freedom, and joy, and life abundant, and all that I could ever need to persevere under the trials of this life.
 
I ended Christmas day witnessing a beautiful sunset.  I sat in awe as, yet again, I peered out my window.  It looked as if the sun was melting into the Atlantic, like the Light of this world becoming one with the ocean of Hope.
 
 
 
So, Hope for the Holidays, I have found it in the "life unexpected" moments.  I am so very grateful that it has carried me through these last 6 weeks.
 
Now I move forward to my new word, my new focus, for 2011, "Restore."
 
Dearly loved, with Hope,
Melissa

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

HOPE for the Holidays: Mary

My first name, Mary, comes from my grandmother, my dad's mom.  She passed away a couple of years before I was born.

I am proud to carry her name, hearing so much about her growing up.  If I could go back in time to meet any one person, it would be her.  She, too, was a Christ follower.

She, too, travelled a hard road.  I didn't know about the woes of her first marriage, prior to her marrying my grandfather, until after my own tragedy.  The circumstances were quite different from mine, yet the aftermath very similar.

Her life was turned upside down.

And yet, it became beautiful again.

And I am beginning to see hints of beauty in mine too.

Sure, I'm still knee-deep in my grief and I've still got a long way to go.  Yet, God is at work orchestrating and arranging amazing things in my life, as only He can do.

I leave you with my favorite verses of the Christmas story, the words of Mary in Luke 1:38:
 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.”

I, too, am the Lord's servant and am open to whatever He has in store for me.

Dearly loved,
Mary Melissa

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Christ without the "mas"

Stick a fork in me, cause I am done.  I am so over Christmas.  I am.  I just am.

Call me Scrooge, call me whatever you like.  I'm just saying.  At least I'm being honest.

I walked away tonight from yet another service project I have delved into this holiday season.  I'm grateful for the opportunity to serve others in need.  It is at the very core of what God calls us each to do.

But as I looked into the faces of helpless women and children, I realized that there is no amount of goodwill to make up for my loss.  There is no amount of goodwill to make up for whatever they've lost.

There just isn't.

Because it is not human goodwill they, nor I, need.  No amount of Christmas cheer.  No amount of anything of this earth.

Instead, it is Christ we need.

Christ alone.  Christ without the "mas."

We hear so often the cheesy phrase, "Jesus is the reason for the season."  Well, for me, Jesus is the reason that I live and breathe, regardless of the season.

And to be honest, He doesn't need presents, and songs, and over-eating, and parties, and all the Christmas craziness to be celebrated.

He really just wants our hearts.

And He's got mine, that is for sure.  I can say beyond a doubt that I am more in love with Christ this Christmas than ever before.  Kind of ironic for me to feel that way during a year where I can't even bring myself to muster a Christmas song.

He knows my heart.  That's the best gift I could ever offer.

Dearly loved, and celebrating Christ,
Melissa

Monday, December 13, 2010

Hope for the Holidays: A Day of Service

"Serving people always takes priority over selfish ambition."

Those are the words of Tony, written on his list of personal goals.  I was reminded of them yesterday as I reflected on our Day of Service in honor of his birthday.

I must admit that I actually made it the entire day without any tears.  I wondered if that was okay.  Shouldn't I be sad, shouldn't I be a mess, because I'm celebrating his birthday without him?

My mom comforted me with her words..."maybe because the day was such a reflection of Tony's spirit, it brought you joy and happiness instead of tears."

And a true reflection, the day certainly was.

About 40 of us gathered that morning at City of Refuge, despite the freezing temperatures.  Bruce, the Executive Director, painted an inspiring picture of the vision and mission of this organization Tony believed in- to provide life-changing services for the lost, the last and the least in Atlanta.  We went on a brief tour of the facility and then divided into groups to sort food and scrub a large section of concrete flooring.

Yes, that is what we did.  We sorted food donations into boxes.  These boxes are all some families have to eat for an entire month.  For some, it is their Christmas "feast."

The floor that was scrubbed will soon be stained and sealed.  Tuesday it will hold hundreds beds for homeless women and children in need of emergency shelter from the cold.

Sure, our work wasn't glamorous.  It certainly wasn't your typical birthday celebration.

But we practiced what Tony so strongly sought after in his own life.  We practiced prioritizing service over selfish ambition. 

And God met us there.  He even told us "hi."  As we finished up serving, snowflakes began to fall.  That is surely a rarity this time of year in Atlanta. 

Tony's birthday wish is now complete.  And I am truly grateful to the friends and family who gave of themselves to make it possible.

Dearly loved,
Melissa

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Birthday week...

It's Tony's birthday week. 

Well, his actual birthday is not until Sunday, the 12th.  I did not know there was such a thing as a birthday week until I met Tony, but I have come to love it.  Apparently it is a family tradition to celebrate the entire week before a birthday.

This should be the time we help him usher in his 36th year. 

Instead we remember his 35 previous years.

I made a really big deal out of his 35th birthday last December.  We were gearing up for his intensive MBA program at Emory where he would not get to see his family and friends very much over the following 16 months.  He actually spent his birthday at orientation for classes.  I planned a series of surprises, based on a list he gave me of things he would like ~ dinners with small groups of friends, skating with the Sansburys, a big family bowling party, and a special date night for us.  He requested no gifts, but to sponsor a family  for Christmas instead.  So I had his family bring toys for 2 adopted boys who had a very nice holiday, thanks to my selfless husband.

The best gift of all was the countless voicemails he received with the absolute worst voices singing "Happy Birthday."  Good belly laughs for Tony and payback for friends and family who endured his silly songs on their birthdays over the years.  Oh, to have him sing to us again!

The final item on his birthday wish list that had yet to be fulfilled was a day for his friends and family to serve at a homeless shelfter together. 

Well, my love, your list is going to officially be complete.  Over 50 of us will be at City of Refuge on the morning of your birthday to put together boxes of food for the last, the lost and the least in Atlanta.  Several others will be serving in their own communities. And I know your servant's spirit will meet us there.

I have been clinging to Hebrews this week, so I leave you with these verses that remind me of Tony:

Hebrews 10: 19-25: "Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching."

Dearly loved, happy birthday Tony,
Melissa

Sunday, November 28, 2010

HOPE for the Holidays: A Meek Offering

I'm thankful to have made it through Thanksgiving. Honestly that was all I could muster up to say I was thankful for that day. I sat across from an empty chair at our family dinner. No amount of my mom's delicious food could comfort the pain, though I did try.

It was a quiet day, a day of reflection. I was glad to spend it in my refuge at my parents. That home carries many happy memories of Thanksgivings past. So many dearly loved family members sat around that same dining room table. Now they feast at the Ultimate Table in heaven.

And for that I am thankful.

But it is hard to say thanks when I miss them so much.

The day after Thanksgiving, I headed to my second refuge, Casey's house in South Georgia. Being greeted at the door by her sweet girls, Chloe and Claire, quickly assured me I was in the best place to finish out the holiday weekend.

I even helped them usher in Christmas by giving them their presents early. I think I was more excited than they were about the book I gave them - a Charlie Brown Christmas Story. As I sat down to read it to them, I discovered that the story was really for me.

I grew up loving Charlie Brown. My brother even had a mural painted in his room as a child. I guess I had forgotten the story of his puny Christmas tree and his disdain for the commercialization of Christmas.

I could so be Charlie Brown this year.

And that puny tree is about all I have to offer in the way of Christmas cheer.

It is my meek offering.

I did at least buy a couple of ornaments toput on my parents Christmas tree. Both of them have the word 'hope' on them. I stuck them right in front in plain view. They carry a lot of meaning this holiday for sure.

They are like the ornament Charlie Brown puts on his tree in the story. Its so substantial compared to his humble tree that is causes it to bend completely over.

And my prayer is that my hopeful ornaments will do the same - cause me to bend my knees in prayer and thanksgiving to my heavenly Father - no matter how weak and puny my offering.

I'm glad the story ends with Charlie Brown finding the true meaning of Christmas with the help of his friends. I'm certainly grateful I have friends - both young and old - to keep me focused on Jesus too.

Before I left to Casey's to head home, Chloe came up to me with her hands on her face, looked at me with her big blue eyes, and exclaimed, "Melissa, I am so excited about Christmas."

And my Hope grew just a bit bigger.
 
Dearly Loved,
Melissa

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Weakness and the art of slowing...

Sorry to disappoint, but I haven't been up for blogging this week.  It is like I just don't have anything to offer, anything to give. I'm spent. I'm tired. I'm weary. I'm weak.

God keeps bringing this verse to mind - one of my favorites:
"'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me." ~ 2 Cor. 12:9

So I guess if Paul could admit to weakness, so can I.

Because I'd much rather have God's power flowing through me than my own.  His power is infinitely more than I could ever muster up anyway.  On a good day, I could maybe combine all my powerful efforts to light just one bulb on a strand of Christmas lights...and God's power could more than light up strands of lights spanning the entire universe...just look at the stars.

Look up the word rest and weary in the Bible, and there are more than enough verses to give us encouragement.  God never intended us to do life on our own, to wear down our limited bodies to the point of utter exhaustion.

He tells us to come to him....

and rest.

And that is what I need so much this week.  I'm not all that concerned about Thanksgiving (well, except about a plateful of my mom's dressing)...I just want some time off to relax...to take a deep breath...to slow down my life.

I wish I would finally learn that life lesson about the art of slowing.  I call it an art because it is not something easily mastered.  It is like a unique talent that requires much practice. 

And practice is what I intend to do over the next 5 weeks.  Take life slowly, in stride, in no hurry.

That is my Christmas gift to myself. 

So, here's to boasting about weakness and slowing...so unconventionial in our busy society, but so very much needed.

Dearly loved, slow and weak,
Melissa

Thursday, November 18, 2010

HOPE for the holidays...One day at a time...

"Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." ~ Matthew 6:33-34

I was reminded of this insightful verse by my counselor last night.  It seems I have gotten myself into a frantic mess worrying about the holidays this past week. 

I mean, I didn't think my 30 year old body could handle this much stress.  It is a wonder I am still standing.  I am utterly exhausted, and it is still a week before Thanksgiving...

And after that comes Tony's birthday on December 12th.  And the 16th is the 2 year anniversary of my Pop's passing.  Then, there is Christmas, and New Year's and finally my birthday in January.

Can I please, please press fast forward on my life?  Or else, just crawl in a hole?

My family and I are going on a Carnival cruise for Christmas.  I've gotten a couple of jokes about getting stuck out in the middle of the ocean.  I think I would be okay with that.

I know, I know, there is no fast forward button, or hole, and not very much likelihood of getting stranded at sea.  So, I suppose I will take up that advice of my counselor and take this season one day at a time. 

Sometimes one hour at a time, sometimes one moment. 

My friend Casey reminded me today that more often that not, things turn out not as bad as I had anticipated.  And that if God gave me the grace to stand that day in front of hundreds at Tony's memorial, surely He will give me the grace to get to January and beyond.

I never thought I would make it through the first day after Tony died.  Here I stand almost 8 months later.  I give all the credit to God for that.

So that is all the HOPE I've got to share with you for this posting.  I'm sorry it's not more.  I'm sorry it is not a message wrapped up in a pretty bow.  Honestly, there may never be a bow tied around this story.

But my God is not in the business of making our lives nice and pretty.  His business is asking us to love and trust Him daily, moment by moment, and providing us with the ultimate gift of eternity, a present too great to be confined to even the most beautiful bow this life could ever tie.

Dearly loved, and still standing,
Melissa

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Jordans...

It seems I have invited myself into another family these last few months.  Sure, I still have my own and Tony's, who I love dearly.  I am blessed to have such amazing support and love.

This other family of 4 was an answer to a prayer that I wrote in my journal about a year before Tony and I married.  He and I were "getting serious" and felt it would be a wise investment in our future to find a Godly couple to mentor us.

So we began to pray.  And pray.  And believe God.  And keep our eyes out for just the right folks.

It was a year and half later, about 4 months after our wedding, when God answered our prayer.  We didn't know it at the time, but when we signed up for a newly married small group through our church, God was bringing us life-long mentors and friends.

That is when we met Mark and Michelle Jordan, and their beautiful daughters Emily and Nicole.

A few weeks into our gatherings, Tony and I were in love with this family.  We loved to hear how Mark and Michelle did married life together and were convinced that when we had children, we would have them on a parenting hotline.  We would constantly ask the question, "What would the Jordans do?"

We had no idea God would place such amazing people in our lives.  And we thought it was just for marriage and family advice.

They became so much more.  I was faced with some urgent financial decisions shortly after Tony's passing.  I was driving down the road one day, bawling my eyes out, and God brought to my mind, "What would the Jordans do?"

One phone call later, and the Jordans joined me in the "trenches" of my tragedy, dregging through important decisions, and hard tasks, and realities that no one would ever wish to face.

I loved the words of wisdom I heard recently that said who you take advice from will ultimately be who you become.  The Jordans are defintely like the folks I want to become.

These verses in Proverbs 15:22 are so true, "Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed." I am forever grateful for their continued counsel. 

There are no words to thank them enough. No words.

Dearly loved, and loving the Jordans,
Melissa

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Hope for the Holidays...Life Unexpected

I've decided to not visit the mall for shopping until after January 1st.  Now those who know me best realize what a major accomplishment that will be.  I mean, I love all things Ann Taylor Loft, and Aveda, and Macy's, and now that Great American Cookie Company has gluten-free cookies, oh, I am set.

Hmmm, we'll see if this lasts...as long as I don't get any coupons or special offers in the mail, I should be good.  Better put mom on presorting my mail.

I digress.  So, I've been thinking more about why this Scrooge wants to come out of me this Christmas season (really, pre-Christmas until after Thanksgiving).  Of course, the obvious reason is that it is the first one without my Tony.  But for me to blame my bitterness on him, now that would just be unfair - that is against his very being.  Bitter would be the farthest trait I would use to describe him, ever.

My "bah humbug" sentiments seem to be directed more toward the very things our society has embraced as "Christmas" or "holiday."  Christmas trees, and lights, and presents, and plastic Nativity scenes, and presents, and more presents, and Santa, and Rudolf, and more presents, and food, and busy calendars, and parties, and Christmas music (still haven't changed my thoughts on this one since my last blog).

None of those things are bad.  I used to love all those things.  They were a big part of celebrating this time of year, of remembering the birth of Jesus, of being with friends and family, of leading into a new year.

Then, my world, as I knew it, fell apart.

And "things" didn't much matter any more.

I am sure I am not alone in that.

I asked my mom the other day if we really had to put up a Christmas tree this year.  I never imagined that question coming out of my mouth.  Ever.

This is a Christmas that I never imagined. 

My Christmas meets life unexpected. 

What is so hard about this year is there are so many unknowns.  How will I feel?  How much will I miss Tony?  How will I push through while society is Christmas crazy?

Funny how the association of those two words "life + unexpected" conjure up negative thoughts. 

Yet, the very story, the very core of Christmas began out of life unexpected.  Sure, the birth of Jesus had been anticipated for years, yet no one expected the Savior of the World to be born in a stable.  Life unexpected.  And certainly Mary never grew up expecting to be a virgin with child.  Life unexpected.  And the world never expected that a tiny baby lying in a manger could become the One Hope for salvation and eternity.  Life unexpected.

Perhaps life unexpected is not so bad after all.  Perhaps life unexpected is God's perfect plan.

So I will not look toward the traditional things for my Christmas this year.  I will celebrate Christmas and Jesus in the unexpected.  I will seek Hope for the holidays with people and places out of the ordinary.  I will look for Hope in life unexpected.

It has already begun.  After launching my hope blog last week, I received messages from folks I didn't even know read my blog who were also seeking that same Hope. People unexpected. 

My prayer is that I will look toward places unexpected for Hope as well.

Perhaps those of you seeking Hope will do the same.  May God meet you in the unexpected.

Dearly loved, and hoping for the unexpected,
Melissa

Monday, November 8, 2010

Even if He does not...

The story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego has always resonated with me.  These 3 men were required by King Nebuchadnezzar to bow down to an image of gold instead of their God Most High.  Because they refused to do so, the king subjected them to a fiery furnace.  I admire their undying devotion to their God, even in the face of death.

Daniel 3:16-18:
"Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, 'King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.'"

And they came out of the fire unscathed. 

It was about 12 hours from the time I knew Tony was missing until I was told that he had fallen.  Those hours seemed like the passing of days at the time...now they seem like fleeting moments.

My life changed forever during those 12 hours.  Forever.

I don't recall all the details, and that is okay with me.  I remember faces of friends who showed up in the wee hours of the morning.  I can faintly picture those bright camera lights while standing in front of every news station in Atlanta, but I could not tell you what I said.  I do remember thinking I was in a bad dream - surely I was not the latest tragedy to hit the morning news.  Yes, a very bad, dark dream.  My own fiery furnace.

Still, God was with me.  No, I did not spend those 12 hours on my knees in prayer, but I recall being in a constant state of dialog with my Protector, my Comfortor, my God.  I begged Him to bring Tony back to me.  Begged Him.

But I did not bargain.  I did not attempt to strike up a deal that if God brought Tony back, I'd follow Him more closely.  Or that I'd tell everyone in my circle of influence about Him.  Or that I'd be more generous, more patient, more loving, if only He would bring my husband back safely.

My God is not a vending machine.  He is not a savy businessman looking for next best scheme to win my heart, to win my obedience. 

He is God.  God, period.

So I was left facing my furnace like those 3 men, facing my "Even if He does not" moment.

And I made the choice that though my circumstances did not turn out as I had so desperately hoped, I will not turn away from my God. 

And I will not curse God for my tragedy.  I will not blame God for my tragedy.  I will not.

I will not.

Dearly loved,
Melissa

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

HOPE for the Holidays...

Is it just me, or has anyone else felt as if they were caught up in the middle of Cinderella's Ball this week?  It's as if the clock struck midnight on Halloween and all of the sudden every pumpkin turned into Christmas decor.  Really?

By Monday evening of November 1st, I was scratching my head as I drove home past the courthouse in Braselton lit up with garland and lights.  And, not to blast my Facebook friends, but I read post after post of folks busting out Christmas music, trading in pumpkin spice lattes for peppermint ones, and entering the fury of buying presents.

I say it again...really?

I mean, I'm still munching on way too much Halloween candy that I snagged off my cute little neice and nephew (their payment for me dressing up like a ridiculous queen to trick or treat with them).

Now, I must temper my thoughts with my state of mind and spirit as I enter these festive days that I used to get all excited for (but honestly never this early - I love turkey and dressing too much!).  Never before could I relate to Scrooge in "A Christmas Carol," but this year I sure could.

I guess that is why my grief group, my counselor and countless books on loss warn those grieving to enter the holiday season with extreme caution.  Now, I could turn into Scrooge and everyone would attempt to understand.  I might not be much fun for the next 2 months, but certainly no one would stop me from being a sad mess.

But I do have a choice in the matter.  To be Scrooge or not to be Scrooge?  That is my question.

No, I probably won't be busting out my Christmas decor.  And, I won't listen to much Christmas music, which isn't different from years past (yes, I love Jesus, just not Christmas music).  I'll turn down my fair share of holiday parties.  I don't plan to visit the mall or buy many presents (sorry, friends and family, unless you're under the age of 6).

A wave of sadness hit me on Monday as I realized that November was really here and the holidays were encroaching faster that I wanted.  It was then that one of my favorite words came to mind, hope.  How could I find hope for the holidays?  How could I give hope for the holidays?  How could I BE hope for the holidays?

I figure I'm not the only one who needs hope this season.  Countless others are facing their first holidays without a dear loved one, due to death, divorce or some other cause.  Several more are facing their first without a job, without health, without a home, without money, without friends, the list goes on and on.

So, Hope.
Yes, Hope.

Hope is what I'll focus on.  Stay tuned for special postings labeled "HOPE for the Holidays" mixed in with my weekly blogs.  Please pass them along as you feel led to share with anyone who needs some hope.

Dear Lord, this is my prayer.  Keep me from being Scrooge this year.  Keep my eyes on You, my Hope, my Love.  And please God, bring Hope to the hurting this holiday season.  Please give us the miracle of Hope.  Amen.

Dearly loved, and hoping,
Melissa

Monday, November 1, 2010

First dates...

Last week marked 4 years since my first date with Tony.  It came to mind as I was driving down "south" this weekend to meet my dear friend Casey's newest baby girl, Caitlyn.  I was holding her oldest girl, Chloe Melissa, for the first time 4 years ago, when I sheepishly said to Casey and her husband with a grin, "So I have a date this weekend."

Tony invited me for our first date to what was supposed to be a reception for one of his clients at the Westin downtown.  Well, it was far from it....a 2 hour business meeting instead, where I proceeded to enjoy the view of going round and round downtown Atlanta.  It was a train-wreck for Tony; I was quite impressed by the calm and collected way he handled himself that day.

I knew he owned "big boy pants" when he asked me out again.  On our third date, he took me to meet his dear friends at their annual haunted house, which Tony had never attended in years past.  They threw fake "guts" at us and made us crawl on our knees through a maze.  The next time I saw them without their Halloween horror gear on, I didn't even recognize them. We still chuckle about that. Oh, the bloopers of our early days together.

One of my colleagues asked me this week what attracted me to Tony.  Along with our shared values, I simply said, "he actually pursued me."

And despite those first dates not turning out the way he had hoped, the pursuit was on.  Very quickly, I found myself wishing to spend every moment of my life with Tony.

I miss him.

But I can definitely relate to the saying, and now say it with confidence, that "it is better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all."

Dearly loved, and giggling at Tony,
Melissa

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Red letters...

One of the best decisions I have made in my grief journey is to read the Bible cover to cover.  I finally made it through the Old Testament a few weeks ago, and I felt rather accomplished.  The next page in my Bible was completely blank.  The Word of God was silent.  For us, only for a page.  But for those who lived during that time, that one blank page represented over 400 years of silence from God. 400 years of prayers unanswered, promises unfulfilled, hope deferred.

And then I turn over a page into Matthew and just a chapter in, there they are in all their splendor...

Red letters.
Those red words in the Bible - the very words of God spoken on earth.

It is God speaking to ordinary man - not just to his chosen few. Jesus is speaking to all of us. Those words are for all of us. It is His promise fulfilled, our ultimate answer to prayer, our hope unfailing.

How very often I take for granted having his very words, his very instructions, his life lessons right at my finger tips. 

I awoke this morning quite gripped by fear over some upcoming decisions that need to be made.  So I opened my Bible to finish up reading the Gospels, and I came across some of my favorite words of Jesus in John 15:5, "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing."

And my fear began to fade away as I wrapped myself in the comfort of the Scriptures.

I must say that I am more in love with Jesus than ever before.

Dearly loved, and loving His Word,
Melissa

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Storage...

I made a point on my fall break to switch out my summer clothes for my fall wardrobe.  This used to entail a simple switch of closets in our home.  Now that I am at my parents, it means a trip to the storage unit 20 miles away.

I packed up my summer yellows and pinks, and all things cotton and colorful.  I parted with my oh so favorite yellow shoes that gave me an extra skip through this trying summer.

I traded them in for a much darker attire, lots of brown, and black, and my new favorite color of the season, gray.  All things warm, and cozy, and lots of layers, that's my style.  Now I will admit I have way too many boots, but that makes this ease into cooler weather and the shorter days a little bit more bearable.

But this season's wardrobe is heavy....just like my heart.  Opening up that door to my storage unit was a wave of emotion.  I was immediately met with the smell of our home...and countless things of Tony's.  One box in particular had his handwriting on it, "Christmas items and wrapping."

It was like he was just there.

It was like he too was preparing for a new season.

But he's not.  Only his stuff remains.

Stuff he never held too closely.

He was never much on keeping many things around.  He did keep one box of sentimental items and notes, but that is a drop in the bucket to what I have kept over the years.

He chose to capture his memories in pictures, in journals, and mostly in moments.

And that is exactly what I hope to hold onto in my longterm storage in my heart and mind.

Sure, I'll treasure his things.  I wore his UGA shirt for the first game this season.  I look forward to curling up with one of the many books in his collection, complete with his side notes and underlining.  His pillow is still next to mine on my bed every night.

But all of that pails in comparison to who he was, to what he stood for, to his relationships and the impact he made on this earth.

As it says in Matthew 6:19-20, "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal."

One day I'll clean out that storage unit.  And as I prepare to do so, I pray the Lord will guide me in letting loose of my own things in this world that don't really matter.  May the storage unit in my heart be purged so that I have more capacity for the treasures in the life yet to come.

Dearly loved, in my boots,
Melissa

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The goal line

I've thought a lot about goal lines this week.  My Dawgs finally pulled out an SEC win last Saturday, crossing that goal line over and over again.  And Bobby Cox reached that goal line of retirement after a stellar, history-making career in baseball.

And who can help but have an image etched in their minds of that capsule bringing up miner after miner in Chile today - goal line crossed, mission completed, brave men.

Even more outstanding is my experience of watching goal line after goal line come to fruition this past Sunday at 12Stone.  The church had open baptism at the end of the service where anyone who desired to accept Christ could publicly profess Him on the spot and be baptized.  The pastor prayed, and the people started filing into two lines on each side of the stage.  Person after person, life after life, salvation sprung forth for hundreds that day.  Their goal line to Jesus was reached.

I watched in awe, teary-eyed, as I was reminded of this saying I heard several years ago from Louie Giglio:
"Christianity is not about getting there first, it is about holding out hope for the person who gets there last."

That "there" is the Kingdom of God.  As much as I'm ready to go to heaven whenever God calls me, and as much as I know that this world is not my home, God whispered to me through those baptisms that there are so many more lives to hold out hope for.  There is still more room in the Kingdom...

Matthew 22: 1-3, 8-10: "Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying: 'The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come'...Then he said to his servants, 'The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.' So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, both good and bad, and the wedding hall was filled with guests."

The invitation to the banquet is still open.  So we pray, we invest, we love, we build relationships, we keep trusting God for those in our circles of influence, those we are yet to meet, those we may never meet on this earth, that they would taste and see that the Lord is good and that they would accept Him as their Savior...

even if they come in last.

It is then that we can boldly proclaim the words of Paul in 2 Timothy 4:7-8, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing."

Dearly loved, and holding out Hope,
Melissa

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

My "big girl" pants

One lesson I have had confirmed this past year is that loss is a part of life. A year ago this week my heart was deeply saddened when my dear friend Tammy's mom left this earth, heavenbound. A few days later I celebrated what was to be the last birthday of another sweet friend; Debbie went home to Glory in January.

Add my tragedy and 3 is company. Yet loss continues to strike my friends, random folks in the news, someone somewhere nearly every day.

And that was no different in Biblical times. Just read Genesis and you will see story after story of death and loss. Even Jesus was not immune, weeping over His friend Lazarus. I love that God included this in the Bible because it justifies our own pain and tears in our grief.

Still our society - and sad to say even many in the church - prefer to sweep grief under the rug, to not deal with it, to not entertain it too long for fear it will happen to them.

And those of us who death has struck like a thief in the night are left with a choice. Do we run the way of society? Or do we put on our big girl and big boy pants and confront our loss head on?

Yes, we all own a pair of these pants. So just humor me and imagine me saying that phrase in my most Southern charm. My friends who know me well have heard it time and time again.

I have to put mine on when I face situations or circumstances where I would rather just tuck my tail between my legs and hide. So a couple of days after I lost my love I made a choice to put on my big girl pants and deal with it. I told myself and God that I was 30 years old and I could not let Tony's death, no matter the unrelenting pain, destroy my life. For if I were to live the average life span I was only a third of the way through.

And I know beyond a shadow of a doubt Tony would want me to make that same decision too.

And so these big girl pants have helped me through 6 months of a very hard, long journey, and I know that is just the beginning.  Just last week I was so proud of myself for spending my first night alone after Tony's accident.  It seems like such a small step, but to me it was a giant leap.

I take no credit for my ability to deal with hard things. It is my God who enables me to put my big girl pants on. He prompts me, He sends wise counsel to nudge me, and in times when I just can't put them on, He gives me comfort and assurance that I can trust Him.

So for those of you facing hard roads, facing tough decisions, I in no way mean to diminish your feelings or circumstances. Yet, I do have one bit of encouragement...

Put on your big girl (or boy) pants and deal with it. You will become all the stronger when you do.

Dearly loved, sporting my big girl pants,

Melissa

Monday, September 27, 2010

Fix You...

"I just wish I could fix it"...a phrase I've heard come out of the mouths of those I hold closest to my heart.  My dad, my mom, Casey are just a few who have uttered those desperate words, grasping for something, anything to release me from these heartwrenching circumstances.  And I know they would do all in their power to fix my pain, to fix my shattered dreams, to fix me.

And yet, they remain powerless.
They cannot fix me.
But, I am grateful beyond words that they love me so much that they would try.

I was reminded of that this evening as I watched a dance to Coldplay's "Fix You" at the SYTYCD live show.  This one piece choreographed by a son wanting to fix his mother's illness has touched me deeply.  Sure, it makes me think of Tony and my desire to see him whole again on this earth.  I would give my own life for that. 

But even more, I could see my loved ones' deep desire to fix me.  Day by day, moment by moment, they see my hard road, they see my struggles, and they want to take my burden away.

And I picture their own toil, their own anguish, their own tears, as the reality of my situation tells them otherwise.

The song's chorus repeats, "Lights will guide you home...and I will try to fix you."

After the show, my mom and I drove mostly in silence, I was enamored by the beautiful harvest moon guiding our way home.  What a fitting picture of the light of the Lord shining down His healing touch, all the while one of my greatest supporters sits as the passenger next to me.  On any given day, I can interchange my dad, my brother, my best and closest friends, into that seat too.

I pray God continues to remind them... "Do not fear, do not worry, I see your heart's desire. I will fix her in My time.  All you need to do is stay the course by her side."

It says in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God."

Lord Jesus, comfort those who comfort me.  Stay close to their side as you remain close to mine.  And, please God, fix me.  Fix me as only You know how. Amen

Dearly loved,
Melissa

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Final words

It is hard to believe that this week marks 6 months since my love departed from this world.

I often replay his final days in my mind, trying to remember what he was up to, imagining what he was feeling.  The last time I saw him was 2 days before the accident, on a Sunday.  We had spent the day before making final preparations for the top portion of our home to be rented.  Of course, Tony needed to be studying for his Executive MBA program that entire day, but he chose to help me finish the daunting task instead.  

All was going according to plan, until I heard a loud rush of water coming from the basement...the washer overflowed.  I was so frustrated; Tony took it in stride, just like he normally did.  We left it alone for the evening; Tony went on to study for a couple of hours before he came into the living room to ask me to dance.  Dance?  Yes, dance. My romantic husband again chose me over all other responsibilities, and as we twirled around our tiny living room,  I remember wishing that this moment would last forever. 

We spent our last day together with a trip to Lowe's for more home supplies, then on to worship at church.  I still picture Tony standing with his arms held high in worship, swaying back and forth, which I loved.  I left that afternoon with my friend Karen for a trip to Savannah & St. Simon's, where I had a couple of events for work.  As I told him good-bye, Tony grabbed me into his arms; looking back, I could have stayed there a lifetime.

The next 2 days were a blur for both of us.  I do recall that he spent most of it cleaning up the water in the basement and finishing up a couple more "to do" items for the house.  He took care of everything, so that I did not have to worry.  All the while, his recent promotion at work had landed him in a position to implement some unpopular decisions among the very people his heart's desire was to serve day after day.  That Tuesday afternoon, he chose to find solace in enjoying one of the first beautiful spring days of the year at the highest natural place he could get to in Atlanta.  And there, he finally started to study.

Sure, I can spend the rest of my life regretting that my Tony spent his final day on this earth taking care of house chores to make my life easier.  It certainly wasn't a glamorous day. 

Or, I can rejoice that he spent his final hours on this earth doing what Jesus calls us all to do - to love and serve others.  Jesus says in Mark 10:43-45, "...whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be a slave to all.  For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve..."

Tony's final words to me, via text, came from the top of Stone Mountain.  It was as if they were scripted from heaven so that I would find comfort in them for the rest of my life:

"I'm at the top, starting to study. I wish you were here with me. It is beautiful up here, almost as beautiful as you."

And I know in my heart, that a little over an hour later, Tony heard these words from the God of the Universe:

"Well done, good and faithful servant!" ~ Matthew 25:21

Dearly loved,

Melissa

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Not our home...

I've been reminded over and over this week that I am not the only one whose life has been turned upside down by tragedy and loss.  Story after story, pain continues to invade the lives of folks I know and even more I don't.

I was reminded yesterday of my first experience with a life-altering loss on September 11th, 1995, when my grandmother died suddenly.  I just adored this dear woman, who loved her grandkids more than life itself.  Of all the people I would have wanted Tony to meet, she was at the top of my list.

Add on top of this date 6 years later, September 11th, 2001, and it makes for quite the sad day.  I think none of us who lived through 9/11 could ever forget where we were, what we felt, and how it changed our lives forever.  And even if we could, we still feel the effects so much in our daily lives.  The security line at the airport always gets me - infringements on our freedom that all stemmed from deep hatred and thousands of lives lost.

It brings me back to an important truth that I took from watching those towers fall in New York.

This world is not our home.
It's not.  It's just not.
And because of the fall of man, God does not intend for it to be.
And because it's not our home, this world is not meant for our comfort and pleasure.

Occasionally I'll get the question of how I make sense of Tony's tragic fall.  Honestly, I don't think I'll ever make complete sense of it this side of heaven, becasue none of us are given a full view of our lives while on this earth. Yet, I do find peace in the truth above - that this world, full of sadness and hurt and uncomprehendable hardship, is just a temporary place until we are called home to heaven.

So I can say with full confidence, though bittersweet, that my love, my Tony, is finally home.

Dearly loved, and longing for home,
Melissa

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Pure joy...

"Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." Hebrews 12:2

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perserverance." James 1:2-3

Joy? Really? These verses about trials and excruciating pain are all about joy?  Really, God?

Joy?

Yes. Joy.

I divide joy into two categories - moments of joy and ultimate joy.

Moments of joy come at just the right time.  Sometimes anticipated, sometimes out of the blue.  Sometimes in the form of a fun activity (have you seen my face whitewater rafting down the Colorado?) and sometimes caused by another (my conversation with sweet Chloe Melissa the other evening about her first dance class - you would have thought this almost 4-year-old had just won the lottery!) 

These moments of joy add such vibrant colors to life.  They come in all shapes and sizes and are just enough to keep me pressing on.  Joy, yes joy.

And then there is ultimate joy.  This joy often cannot be seen this side of heaven.  It is too large to be contained on this earth. It is the joy described in the verses above.

It is the joy that led Jesus to the cross.
It is joy that led His followers though many trials and pain.
And, it is my joy.

My joy to keep me pressing on and pressing into the Lord.
My joy, as much as I want Tony here with me, to rejoice that he is in heaven.
My joy, no matter what this life throws at me, to keep living for the life yet to come.

How else do we keep going in a world so broken and so full of pain, a world that is not our final dwelling place?  Moments of joy, as nice and refreshing as they are, are simply not enough. 

Not a moment of joy
every moment of the day
for every day of my life
could ever be enough.

Our souls are made to long for more.  Our souls are made to long for eternity.  Our souls are made to long for ultimate joy.

Dearly loved, and longing for joy,
Melissa

Monday, August 30, 2010

My right hand...

I tend to raise my right hand as I am in worship at church, sometimes in my car, sometimes when I just need to reach out to God in the middle of the night.  I raise my right hand, rarely my left.

I did a quick search on http://www.biblegateway.com/ of "right hand" and there were over 100 mentions in the Bible.  It seems God's right hand is one of unwavering might and strength, powerful enough to lift us out of the most dire circumstances.

I find myself in such a miry pit.  There are no sides to hold onto.  Even if there were, I don't have the strength to pull myself out.  I'm too far in for my friends and family to reach in, though they would do anything to take my pain away.  They cannot.  No one on this earth can save me.  Not even one. 

So I lift my right hand straight up from the pit.  Fingers spread apart with a sparkle coming from my beautiful wedding bands that I no longer wear on my left hand. 

I reach for God.

I can't always feel Him.
Sometimes I doubt.
Sometimes I just cry and clamor just to make sure He can hear me.
My arm gets tired.
I want to put it down and sink.
I felt that way today, and yesterday, and I'm sure it won't be the last time over this long journey.

Yet, God never lets go.  He never lets go.  So I guess that means I can't sink, though sinking sure would be the easier way out.

Ps. 73:23-26:  "Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand.  You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory.  Whom have I in heaven but you?  And earth has nothing I desire besides you.  My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever."

Dearly loved,
Melissa

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Convinced...

I have a 2 by 4 piece of wood sitting on my desk in my parents' living room. It is no ordinary piece of wood, for it is adorned with duck tape and is actually 2 pieces of wood glued, screwed and nailed together. Written in one corner is "Romans 8:38-39."

"For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to seperate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."

Our good friend Scott, who so amazingly spoke at Tony's memorial service, brought the wood piece to me after it was used as a part of a sermon at Buckhead Church a few weeks after Tony died. The point of the sermon was that no matter what bad or good things come at us in life, nothing, NOTHING, can seperate us from the love of God. Those 2 pieces of wood permanently stuck together represented that.

The wood certainly does not match my mother's beautiful decor in their home, yet its meaning is a lifeline to me. It speaks of the word "convinced."

For I am convinced that God's love is with me. Always. Forever.

Convinced...no matter my joy and bliss, nor my deep sorrow and pain.
Convinced...on the day Tony proposed and on the day Tony departed from this earth.
Convinced...whether life makes sense or never does again.
Convinced.
Convinced.

Nothing will seperate me from the love of Christ. Nothing.

Settle that in your own hearts, my dear friends. Though God's love doesn't promise to take away your pain or guarantee a happy life, it is the only promise I will stake my life on.

Dearly loved, and convinced,
Melissa

Monday, August 9, 2010

My mission field

Tony was my mission field. That was one of the first things I learned in our pre-marital counseling. Our counselor told us that we were to be each other's mission field, to view each other through the lense of a servant's heart, and that as we did that, our spouse's faults and mistakes would always be covered in love.

I miss my mission field. I feel so lost without it. I loved serving Tony. No, I was not a perfect wife by any stretch, but I can look back and see in our marriage that my thoughts about Tony's best interests and needs were always weaved into my day. The way I served him was only a fraction of the love and servanthood he poured out so extravagantly on me.

I could have been so happy fulfilling my mission as Tony's wife for the rest of my life. That was my "Plan A."

Life did not pan out the way I thought it would, so I'm left to determine "Plan B."

I sat in church last week in tears once again. The message was about lifting others up and asking God to give us eyes to see needs around us. I am fully on board with that, so I asked God to just give me a glimpse of what my Plan B mission might look like.

Later that week, He began to birth a new vision, a new mission, in my heart. Though I have a very limited view, I can see it is God-sized and one to rise up over time from the ashes of my Plan A.

For now it is just that, nothing concrete, and nothing to share specifically. Those of you who continue to pray for me, please pray that God unveils this Plan B in His timing, in His way, and that it would be completely of Him and nothing of me.

I just want to live my life "on mission"...whatever that mission may be.

Dearly loved, in Plan A and Plan B,
Melissa

Monday, August 2, 2010

A rainbow in a rainstorm

I drove through a horrible rainstorm last night. My final 20 miles to home were met with deep blue rain clouds that gave the phrase "the bottom fell out" a whole new meaning.

Just when I thought the rain could not come any stronger, it did. Incessant drops pounded and pounded, harder and harder. I could barely look anywhere but straight ahead for trying to make out the blurring brake lights in front of me. That was until the dreaded stand still traffic ensued on the interstate. As I came to a hault, and I started to grumble, I looked up and there it was.

A rainbow.

Yes, a rainbow. Not a rainbow after a storm, like God gave to Noah. Instead, it was a rainbow in a storm.

Though faint in color and only half could be seen, it was enough to be a rainbow just for me.

My current life feels like a rainstorm, one I never saw coming, a thief in the night. The rain pours down harder and harder, pounding my worn-down body, pounding my battered spirit, pounding my aching heart.

And yet, there in the midst of my rain clouds is a rainbow, my ray of hope from the Lord. It is a promise that though this world unleashes unrelenting rain, my God holds eternal sunshine in the life yet to come. And that life yet to come is void of pain, and of tears, and of loss.

It says in Revelation 21:4 that in heaven, "He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."

I cling to these verses as my umbrella of hope.

Traffic picked up after a few minutes, but I kept trying to keep one eye on the rainbow as I drove (a little less dangerous than texting while driving, right?). It faded away as I encountered even darker storm clouds and more heavy rain.

Though I could no longer see it, I knew that rainbow and that promise was still there behind the storm, waiting to see me through on the other side.

Dearly loved, in the rain,

Melissa

Monday, July 26, 2010

My present...

The hardest part about my journey of sorrow is being in the present. It's the here and now that seem utterly hopeless and unbearable most days.

My past is full of sweet memories of my love. My future, though hard to picture, holds tiny glimmers of hope that God will use my hardship for His glory. But, my present, my now, holds darkness and tears and overwhelming odds and pain. It is in my present that I find myself just wanting to give up. It is in my present when I ask God, "Really?"

The sermon I heard this Sunday addressed this very topic - how quick we are to praise God for what He has done in the past and believe Him for the future, yet, we almost become unbelievers when it comes to trusting Him with the present.

I am reminded of the verses in Exodus 3 when Moses asks God His name. He responds, "I am who I am." He answered Moses with "am" not with "was" or "will be." His name is present tense. He is the God of the present.

And He is the God of my present, no matter how dark it seems to me.

The pastor went on to encourage us to live and to trust God in the present. My Tony was the master of that. He would often pull me aside just to dance for a moment together. He would sit and watch the birds out our back window even when we were pinched for time. He would eat every single one of my prized (and expensive) gluten-free cookies, laugh and say, "Melissa, sometimes you just have to enjoy the simple pleasures in life. We can buy more cookies." My husband learned from his past, dreamed big for his future, still he mastered living in the present.

So I practiced this life lesson yesterday (a Monday, of all days) and I spent the majority of the day in tears. That is what greeted me in my present so I let them flow. Just about the time I wanted to give up, I had a knock at my office door and in walked my colleague with a Zaxby's birthday cake milkshake that I had been eyeing on TV for weeks. She had seen my weary face and thought I could use a "pick me up."

And the great I AM said hello in my present...through my sweet tooth and my love for all things chocolate and ice cream and icing...

Dearly loved, in the present,

Melissa

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Not What but Who

About once a week I find myself going about my day like my life is actually normal, then out of nowhere I am slapped in the face with the reality of my tremendous loss. I shake my head as I ask myself, "What happened to my life?"

I still find it hard to believe that the entire trajectory of my life changed in a matter of seconds. I have often asked God these past 4 months, "What are You up to, God? What are You doing? And, what am I going to do?" Lately, I have also been been bombarded with that last question from well-meaning folks, "What are you going to do now Melissa?"

My honest answer is "I don't know."

A gentle voice reminds me, it's not "what?" that I need to focus on, but "who?" This is a nugget of truth that I gleamed from my dear friend's father who lost his wife last fall. He encouraged me to continually ask the question "Who is God?" in the midst of my pain and grief.

So for the past week, this has been my prayer:
"Lord, help me to focus on who and not on what. God, when I lash out with 'what?' answer me with the Truth of who You are. When others ask me questions of 'what?' remind me of who I am in You."

It is quite fitting that I am finishing up Isaiah in my daily reading right now. I love this story of redemption for the Israelites. I love how God reveals His compassion, His strength, His unfailing love, for His chosen people. It is such a perfect picture of who my God is.

As it says in Isaiah 54:10, "Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed, says the Lord, who has compassion on you."

I don't know what my future holds, but I know Who holds my future. And so, I will continue to look to the One who cares more about who I am than what I do. Who I am, not what I do.

Dearly loved,
Melissa

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Darkness

My last entry was about the sunset. And after every sunset comes the dark, black night over the earth.

I have just returned from travels where I witnessed amazing sunsets on both the East and West Coasts. They were breath-taking, awe-inspiring, God-ordained glimpses of heaven.


Yet, they cannot divert my nightfall. I have walked into my sunset and darkness is all around.

It is dark. It is black. It is night. And I find myself surrounded by sorrow.

I so badly want the sun to come up again. How long, oh Lord, must my night last? How long? How long?

The Lord promises in Isaiah 42:16, "I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them."

Yes, I am confident that God and His Word is a "lamp to my feet and a light for my path" (Ps. 119:105). Yet, my grief is so dense that I can only see enough to take the next step in front of me.

And I am scared (though God says to fear not).

And I feel alone (though God says He will never leave me).

And I dread each step (though I have an unshakable hope in Christ).

I dread walking through life without my Tony by my side.

Though I am like a child afraid of the dark, I must drum up enough courage to trust that the night will not harm me, that the One who created both night and day sees me in darkness and in light.

And where He leads, I will follow.

Dearly loved,

Melissa

Friday, July 9, 2010

Into the sunset...

My blog comes from beautiful Seattle - my first visit here without my Tony. He absolutely loved this place, loved it, and has such dear friends here. It is bittersweet to see them and be surrounded by people and things so close to Tony's heart.

My flight over from Atlanta departed around 8 p.m. so I flew most of the way into the sunset. Toward the last hour of the flight, I sat in complete awe of God at the breath-taking colors of yellow and orange enveloping the dark blue earth below. How majestic is our God that He gives us a glimpse of heaven as the day meets the night. Tears welled in my eyes as we made our decent, the bright warm colors fading into darkness. All that remained was a small beam of light on the wing of the plane, guiding us to our destination.

This, all too well, describes my very journey into my sorrow. The first book I picked up after the accident was "A Grace Disguised" by Jerry Sittser, a journal of his grief after major loss. I only read the first two chapters because it was just too much too soon. However, I gleamed a nugget a truth that became a guiding principle in my own grief. He talks about how he was faced with a choice early on whether or not to intentionally walk into his sorrow. He described it as walking into the sunset. Either he could face his darkness head on or run the opposite way and have it hit him on the other side. His grief was unavoidable, but it was up to him whether he confronted it or delayed it, only to have it manifest in other ways later.

I, too, made the choice to walk into my sunset, and the darkness that quickly ensued. It was one of the most painful decisions I have ever had to make. As much as I want to escape into the daylight, I continue to walk straight ahead. And just like that tiny light on the outside of the plane, there are glimpses of light along my journey to give me enough hope to carry on. It is God reminding me that He alone is my guide, my shepherd, leading me safely to the morning light.

As Psalm 30:5 says, "...weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning..."

My morning might not come soon, but I must trust that dawn will one day break through. Until then, I'll think on the beauty of the sunset from that plane high above, for that is the God-sized view that I cannot see from the earth below.

Dearly loved, from a sunset,
Melissa

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Freedom and Fireworks...

Call me un-American, but I don't like fireworks. I say that as I hear them pop just down the street. As a child I was so terrified, I would force my mom to hold my ears every 4th of July when the fireworks started. I'm not sure what was worse, the fear that they would come down and burn me, or the obnoxiously loud noise.

Tony used to laugh at me as I cringed at the sound of them, and I would joke about making him hold my ears too. It's another holiday without him. I decided to forgoe the 4th festivities all together this year (with the exception of my mom's yummy ribs). I don't need festivities to celebrate what the day is all about - freedom.

I would make a terrible soldier. The sound of gunshots and explosives are way too much for my sensitive ears. That makes me all the more grateful for the men and women who do put themselves in harms way. They fight for our freedom and protect our country so that I don't have to.

Thank you, soldiers, thank you. Those words seem insufficient for the tremendous sacrifice you make day after day.

I stood in church this morning and thanked my God for the freedom we have to worship Him in this country, and for the freedom that we have in Christ. Galations 5:1 says, "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by the yoke of slavery." Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice for our sin by dying on the cross. Just like our soldiers, He paid the price for freedom so that we didn't have to.

Thank you, Jesus, for setting us free.

Dearly loved, and free,
Melissa

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Kickin' birds

Last week marked 3 months since the accident. All the books on grief that I have read warned me that month 3 would be just as intense as the first day of loss. I had begun to mentally prepare myself for total emotional melt-down.

I made it through that day, and the week before and after, without that melt-down. I wasn't prepared for that.

Just yesterday, I finally finished "A Grief Observed" by C.S. Lewis - his reflections on losing his wife. It was a tough read for me, but was filled with helpful nuggets for my own grief. Toward the end of the book, Lewis talks about the way his grief lessoned at a time when it should have intensified. He went on to say that because he was not blinded by his tears and uncontrollable emotions, he was actually able to reflect positively on his spouse, their fond memories, and the beauty of who she was.

I can totally relate. So often I think I should constantly be a slobbery mess. But I continue to be reminded that my grief is unique and cannot be defined by a book or other people's expectations. Actually these last few weeks have been a welcome relief. My mind, as always, is filled with thoughts of Tony, but these thoughts lately have brought laughs and smiles, more often than tears. I find myself wishing for him just to tell him something funny that has happened or show him a beautiful place he would have loved.

I wished for him at the beach with his family this week. I wished for him to see my neice Haley kicking birds. Yes, kicking birds. This is a long-standing joke between Tony and me, starting on the top of the Empire State Building when we were just dating. Since I was a kid, I have always been intrigued by getting as close to a bird as possible until it flew away. Call it mean, I call it fun. We were surrounded by pigeons on the observation deck. I simply lifted my leg toward one bird to see what would happen. As the pigeon flew off, its beak hit the safety rail, making it sound like I had actually kicked it. A lady behind us loudly stated, "she just kicked that bird." The look on Tony's face was one of utter shock, but quickly that turned to unending laughter. He never believed I did not actually kick the bird and brought it up on multiple occasions.

So just to make him smile, I attempted to kick birds on our honeymoon in Barbados, and on our West Coast vacation, and in Denver with my girlfriends. Really, I just chased them away, with pictures to prove it. When pigeons landed near our stuff at the beach this week, I seized the opportunity to share our joke with my neice. She loved it so much that on my last day at the beach with her, she told me "I sure hope we can kick some birds at the beach today, Aunt Melissa."

I can hear Tony's belly laugh now.

The mystery of grief continues. I think mystery is a fitting word.

Dearly loved,
Melissa

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Moonlight dancing....

Out of all the amazing scenes God paints across His earth, to me, none compare to that of the moon over the ocean. How I love to watch those small beams of light dance on the dark ocean waves. It is romance. It is pure beauty. It is God giving me just a glimpse of His glory. And, I love it, I breathe it in and am filled with the wonder of God.

The Psalmist said it best: "When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?" Ps. 8: 3-4

This scene greeted me as I arrived at Hilton Head last night. I had a long car ride all to myself, mostly filled with thoughts of Tony. I was thrilled to discover radio station after radio station paying tribute to Michael Jackson all weekend, and I'm pretty sure I listened to all of his best hits along the way. "The Way You Make Me Feel" was one of our favorites, and I can still picture Tony singing along to the lyrics as he twirled me around on the dance floor. We loved to dance, we just loved it. I could get lost in those moments - such pure bliss and joy - moments that are now bittersweet.

I miss my dance partner.

As I drove over the final stretch of water to the island, there was the moon in all its splendor, dancing on the marsh waters. Staring at that bright light surrounded by the black sky, I felt God telling me that He loves me, that He sees me, that He wants to romance me with moonlight.
I will never dance close in the arms of my Tony again, never. Never. But I know the One who sways in the moonlight, and His Spirit comforts me.

Dearly loved, dancer,
Melissa

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Letting Go...

"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." ~ John 16:33

These verses keep running through my head these past few weeks. Each hard thing I face, I have to remind myself that Jesus endured even more, and He won. He won, so that I don't have to. He won, so that I can surrender my life and my sorrows all into His capable hands. I answer to Him, and Him alone. He is my Judge, He has the last say, His Words trump the words of any other on this earth. I let my troubles go, and let God handle them.

No matter how hard the world comes at me, my God is greater. He won't leave my side.

He didn't leave my side last week when I had my friends pack up and move all of the belongings Tony and I had together. He never left my side as I celebrated Father's Day with my dad and my father-in-law, with a nagging ache over how wonderful a dad my Tony would have been. He never left my side as I faced things I never imagined having to at 30 years old or ever.

And He will never leave my side as I get up each day and ask "just what am I supposed to do now?"

I have said repeatedly, I just don't know how people get through life, and the inevitable trouble it brings, without Jesus.

I don't ever want to know.

Dearly loved, and letting go,
Melissa

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Meant to live for so much more...

I can't help but be inspired every time I hear this favorite Switchfoot song. And it's more than just the rockin' guitar prelude. The words in this song are pretty loaded if you really take them in.

This song is even included on the Barbie Music Player. How in the world do I know this? Funny story...

My first venture outside of Atlanta in the weeks following Tony's accident was to good old South Georgia, home to my friends Casey and Kevin and 2 of the cutest little girls in the world, Chloe and Claire. We were at an outdoor mall and I took the girls over to see the fountain. Chloe asked why there was money in the fountain, so I explained that folks throw money in to make a wish. Out went her cute little hand, "Do you have any money, Melissa?" Of course, I'd give this sweet child any spare change I had. I gave some to Claire too and they both threw in their coins. As we walked away, I asked Chloe what she wished for, and without skipping a beat, she told her mother and I "a Barbie Music Player."

Casey and I had no clue what she was talking about, but thanks to Amazon and one day shipping, I ordered one without her parents knowing, and it arrived the very next day. Chloe was just beside herself to have a package with her name on it, and she was thrilled when she realized it was just what she wished for. Now, at this point, I confessed that I had sent it, for I feared she'd be throwing every coin her parents had into fountains to get her wishes granted.

So we opened it up to discover that it came complete with songs on it - probably not the songs Casey and Kevin would normally let her listen to. But hey, Chloe and I sure did have fun at our "dance party" in her room. The "Meant to Live" was the one redeeming song about the gift.


The chorus says, "We were meant to live for so much more. Have we lost ourselves?" My daily reading included these verses today, Ps. 39: 4-7:
"Show me, O Lord, my life's end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life. You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Each man's life is but a breath. Man is a mere phantom as he goes to and fro: He bustles about, but only in vain; he heaps up wealth, not knowing who will get it. But now, Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in you."

So if our life is a mere vapor, and we really lived like it was, then we would really get the words of this song - that God meant for us to live for so much more than the worldly things that so much consume us. I need to hear that right now, as my day to day worries seem like unsurmountable mountains right now.

And, I have a great example to follow - that of my husband. Though his life was only 35 years, he packed so many meaningful events and relationships in it that most folks would not acheive in 100 years. Yes, I want him here; I would give anything for that. Yes, I am devastated that his life was cut short. Still, I cannot deny the fact that he lived a very full life, and I celebrate that. I celebrate that.

I seek to carry on that legacy:
to be intentional with my time, my relationships, and my resources;
to not get so worked up about the things in this world that are just merely things;
to commit to the Lord my wants and desires and allow them to be transformed into His.

And, so the song continues, "We want more than this world's got to offer..."

I want more than this world's got to offer...

Dearly loved, and living for more,
Melissa

Monday, June 14, 2010

How are you?

The 3 words "how are you" that come out of my mouth (as they do most southerner's) with little thought seem almost laughable right now. Still I find myself continuing to roll them off without missing a beat as I greet someone. When the question is directed back at me, I seem to hesitate...

Sometimes I just rattle off "fine" either without thinking or without wanting to really talk about how I really am. Sometimes I'll say "okay" so that the person knows I'm not fine, but I'm not all down and out either. Other times, I avoid the question all together and stop myself from asking back, "Seriously, do you really want to know how I am?"

Why, oh why, do we ask that well-meaning question? I'm pretty sure that most of the time most folks really would not want to hear my honest answer. It is just too much, too much. Yet, sometimes I just blurt out without thinking. I almost need to wear a sign "Caution: I never know what is going to come out of my mouth and in about 5 minutes I'm gonna forget everything I just said to you (not because I don't care, it's just that a major symptom of extreme grief is forgetfulness)."

I really think I would lose my head were it not attached to my body. That also explains the countless phone calls, emails and texts that have gone unreturned or are way delayed. I listen to or read every one, and I am so very grateful to have so many people who genuinely care about how I am doing. Please don't give up on me.

These verses came to me in one of my daily Griefshare emails the other day (for anyone going through grief, I highly recommend signing up for these), so here is my best answer to how I am:

"...hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed..." ~ 2 Cor. 4: 8-9

Dearly loved,
Melissa

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Gonna Be Alright...

Songs seem to be inspirations for my last couple of blogs. I introduced my niece Haley to these words in the song "Salvation is Here." I even got her to do an arm punch as we sang, "It's gonna be alright." My North Point pals would understand that significance. I think we must have listened to the song on repeat for over an hour.

I need those words especially today. I've read in several grief books that I will experience waves of emotions. Today, it was wave after wave, each one different. A wave of sadness, a wave of joyful reflection, a wave of anger (cell phone companies, urr!), and back to sadness again. I tell myself, it's gonna be alright, and I picture my sweet niece giggling and smiling.

Oh to be six years old and so excited about the simplicities of life...dressing up fancy and eating steak for dinner, making her aunt dress up in a red sparkle dress, complete with a hot pink bow and red polish on fingers and nails (yes, fingers too!), and going to see the Cabbage Patch land and coming home with a stuffed animal cat instead. On the way home after our little excursion, Haley told me she was gonna lose her voice from telling her mom all about our time together.

She sees the best in life and in her own way she reminds me that it is gonna be alright. Most days it is hard to believe that. Right now, it's even hard to type those words, tears streaming down my face.

God, on days I struggle to see it, please remind me that it's gonna be alright.

Dearly loved,
Melissa

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

How He Loves

"He is jealous for me, loves like a hurricane, I am a tree, bending beneath the weight of his wind and mercy..." so goes the lyrics to a song that continues to comfort my heart.

It's the song "How He Loves" from Crowder's latest album. I recall downloading the song on Itunes a few nights after I received news that a friend, Debbie, had lost her battle with cancer. I remember singing that song in church the next Sunday, Tony by my side. It was as if Debbie was singing that song down from heaven, telling me that God loves us so much more than we could ever fathom on this earth. I was comforted through my tears that day.
Less than 2 months later, that song came to me again.

The very night after receiving the tragic news about my husband, I awoke in painful sobbing that I had never known before. I didn't even know what to cry out to God. I groaned. And in that groaning, God brought this song to my heart. This time it was both Tony and Debbie singing it over me. How I celebrate that they know in full what we can only know in part on this earth - how very much He loves us. I celebrate their gain, I mourn my loss.

So I'm like this tree, bending beneath God's love and mercy. And funny thing, it seems in times where I just want to give up and topple over, this song comes out of nowhere to remind me again that I am in the very palm of God's hand. He is jealous for me.
Dearly loved,
Melissa

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Pivotal Circumstances at Thirty...

God continues to tell me "hi." He's done so during church the last 2 Sundays. I have been trying to read through the Bible in 90 days as a journey into my grief. The last 2 sermons have included the very verses I had read that day before - and I've only made it to 1 Kings, so it's not like I am reading those well-known, always quoted verses of the New Testament.

Two weeks ago, the sermon was about Saul, and how after he was appointed king in 1 Samuel, he made choices that caused God to grieve giving him the throne. The pastor talked about how we cannot follow God half way. We follow Him wholeheartedly or we don't follow Him at all. When I read about Saul, what stuck out to me was that Saul was 30 years old when he was given this opportunity of a lifetime. How very sad to waste it on chasing other gods and worldly things.

Later that same week, I started reading about another 30-year-old king, David. He is known so well for being a man after God's heart. No, his life was not perfect, he had his share of mistakes. He was not immune to pain and heartache - just read the Psalms. Yet, he chose to follow God all the days of his life.

Just as these kings had life-changing events occur at 30, so did I, though theirs triumphant, and mine tragic. Still, I am faced with a similar choice - to follow the God of the Universe or to turn away. To be like Saul or to be like David. I choose David. Despite the hard road I have ahead of me, I choose to chase after God.

After loosing the man I loved more than anyone on this earth, the only One who could fill the void left behind is God. Nothing on this earth can fill this hole, nothing, nothing. God is It. He is It. He's the One I hope for, His word is what I cling to in the midst of my sorrow. My prayer for anyone who is attempting to follow God "half-way" is that he or she would wake up and realize that there is nothing on this earth worth chasing like God. Nothing.

I am like the disciples of Jesus in John 6: 67-68, at a point in His ministry where many of His followers were beginning to turn away from Him. "'You do not want to leave too, do you?' Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, 'Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.'"

I have written in my Bible next to these very verses a quote from my old college pastor, "God assumes complete responsibility for a life totally surrendered to Him."

My life is in His hands.

Dearly loved, and all in for God,
Melissa

Sunday, May 30, 2010

My hero, my Pop

Tonight I walked past a war memorial with a prisoner of war flag on top. Those black and white flags always stop me in my tracks and flood my memory with images of my earthly hero, my Pop.

Its only fitting this Memorial Day weekend to tell you about a man who is so dear to my heart. My grandfather was a paratrooper in WWII. He jumped during the early hours of D-Day and was captured by the Germans. He spent 11 months in a prisoner of war camp before being liberated. There are few details my family knows about his time there. I can only imagine that spending almost a year of his life wondering if he would ever see his loved ones again would not be something he would want dwell on.

This is only my second Memorial Day without him. He passed away in December of 2008 after 87 years of a very full life. His funeral was held in the same church he attended since his childhood. Its stained glass windows were the very ones he pictured during those grueling days as a prisoner. God used those images to give my Pop hope that he would make it home.

He did make it home to begin a love story with my grandmother, raise 3 wonderful children, one being my mom, and invest pure joy and love in his 6 grandkids. Oh, what treasured memories I have with my Pop. As much as I did not want to say good-bye, I have never felt so proud as the moment when the military presented a 21 gun salute and handed an American flag to my mom, saying "On behalf of the United States Army, we are very sorry for your loss."

As we drove away from the cemetary that day, Tony said to me that he was so inspired by Pop that it almost made him want to join the military. He too considered Pop a great American, and I picture them embracing in heaven like Tony always greeted him, "Hey, Pop."

Sometimes I feel so very alone as a widow, but sadly, I learn of others in this stage of life almost every week. My heart goes out this weekend to the widows of those servicemen who did not make it home. All I can tell you is thank you. Your hardship, your tears, your sacrifice allows me to be free.

Dearly loved American,

Melissa

Monday, May 24, 2010

Shattered dreams...

Shattered...like a priceless sculpture thrown from the tallest building in the world, all my future hopes and dreams with Tony are shattered into millions of tiny pieces, never to be the same again...

I think death is best described as a series of losses. Each one, I must grieve. This week, I grieve my dreams.

I remember collapsing into the arms of my best friend Mac the day after the accident, and the only words I could muster to her were "What am I going to do, Mac, what am I going to do?" All my dreams included Tony. I feel as if someone has pressed the "pause" button on my life.

The rest of the world moves on, just as it should. I stand still.


I know all too well the verse of Jeremiah 29:11. "For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." Yes, I know God's plans for me are good, they are divinely perfect because they are His plans. I've been told over and over by well-meaning people that God will still fulfill my dreams, and give me new dreams too, and that one day I'll move on. Quite honestly, were I to write a book about what NOT to say to someone who has just experienced a tragic death, that last sentence would be the basis of chapter one. I must first grieve my dreams lost, before I entertain new ones.

Instead, I cling to Jeremiah 29:12-13. "Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart." We hardly ever hear that second part recited with verse 11 above. That's all I've got to offer God right now, my heart. My dreams are shattered, my life is upside down, my resources are strained, my talents and skills are overshadowed by grief, my body is weary. So, I entrust my heart to the Lord, like I entrusted it to Tony as my husband just 2 years ago.

I have a silver heart charm engraved with my initials on it. Several years before I met Tony, I had put that charm in an alabaster jar to symbolize me giving my heart fully to God until he brought me a husband. I gave Tony that silver heart on our wedding day. Now I offer it again to the Lord. My heart, despite its all consuming ache and sorrow, belongs to Him, and Him alone.

I leave you with some verses my good friend Holly sent me this week from Lamentations 3: 17-25. This is how I've felt lately:
"I have been deprived of peace; I have forgotten what prosperity is. So I say, 'my splendor is gone and all I had hoped from the Lord. ' I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gail. I remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, 'the Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for Him. ' The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him."

Dearly loved,
Melissa

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Help for a Widow...

There are over 100 mentions of the word "widow" in the Bible. Up until 2 months ago, I mostly pictured widows as little old ladies, and I felt very sorry for them. I never thought I'd fit into this category - especially not this early in my life.

But here I am, a widow. I struggle calling myself that.

To specifically mention this word over and over again in His Word, God must know that a widow's pain requires much help from His followers. I have never been one to willingly receive help from others - I felt I could either take care of myself or I would at least repay any help I did accept. Now, in this stage of life, I realize that those offering their assistance to me are truly doing what is Biblical.

It says in James 1:27, "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orhans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world."

All I can offer to the countless people who have given so freely of yourselves in my greatest hour of need is my sincere gratitude and a humble request that God richly bless your generosity. You have encouraged me with hundreds of cards, emails and Facebook messages, texts, and phone calls. You have sustained me with meals, gifts, donations and just your presence. You have given me your shoulder to sob on and have prayed for me often. You have even labored physically to help me with house chores. God has used you to make some sense out of what seems like unsurmountable circumstances, to bring light to my darkness, and to one day help me to rise from these ashes of tragedy.

I may never know all you have done for my family and I. I may never be able to return the kindness. But I know the One who knows everything you have done, and I am confident that He is well pleased.

Dearly loved widow,
Melissa